Monthly Archives: June 2019

Deconstruction Roundup for June 28th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has a lot of politicians talking at each other to catch up on.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you had to deal with the reality of burying a cousin this week. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: The Plot Gets Stranger

Last time, we looked at a short chapter that detailed the ways that Wind Blossom sought to alienate her offspring from pursuing her disciplines, by making them hate her so much that they would never take up her knowledge or profession. Even though her knowledge of genes and gene splicing will still be incredibly invaluable to the people who are trying to breed their livestock and their crops so that Pern can eat and do work.

I still don’t understand how this plan is supposed to work, and it’s made only worse by the idea that Kitti Ping apparently attempted the same thing on her child. Or Kitti Ping was just stern and never provided praise of any sort for her child all throughout her life.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 5 and 6: Content Notes: Repopulation Through Pregnancy Trope, ablism,

Fierce winds blow.
Seas roil.
Calm, wind. Settle, sea.
Let my loved return to me.

(Wind Rider, Second Interval, AL 507)

Chapter 5 is, essentially, “Get Lorana off the boat in the middle of the storm that Borar can’t sail the ship through because he’s staggeringly incompetent.” With help from Colfet to do so. J’trel and Talith’s decision to die hits Lorana here, but the more immediate concern of getting Lorana off the ship shelves that idea. What Lorana has to do is climb down a rope from the big shop to the small ship that Colfet asked be towed behind in case someone fell overboard. She manages it, and so does Colfet after some thinking about how to do it with a broken arm.

There’s an intermediate scene whose purpose is to tell us there will be a dragonrider, J’lantir, looking for Lorana to tell her the bad news about J’trel, and to express yet more interest in her bestiary project.

Unfortunately, the small launch doesn’t do well in the big storm and there’s a lot of scrambling to try and prevent the boat from sinking. Eventually, Lorana gets thrown overboard by a wave and tells her two fire lizards to go and save themselves, sufficiently firmly to override their objections, because Lorana is convinced she’s going to die out on the sea, and Colfet too, and she wants her fire lizards to be safe with someone else. Before we spin away from her, Lorana feels happy that someone is going to take care of her lizards, based on a feeling she gets from them at the end of their journey. That’s Chapter 5.

Terrome: (i) the biological portion of the ecosystem of Terra, the third planet of solar system Sol; (ii) the information and materials required to produce a functioning ecosystem based on the Terran ecosystem. (See terraforming.)

-Glossary of terms, Ecosystems: From -ome to Planet, 24th Edition

(Fort Hold, First Pass, Year 50, AL 58)

I’m still not linguistically on board with this idea of -ome becoming a suffix, but Terrome does make sense to use, and also suggests the writer of the book is a Terran, or has at least decided to adopt Terran naming conventions. Because otherwise it would probably be “star system [name].”

Anyway, it’s Wind Blossom time, and it’s been two years or so since Tieran stormed out of her lab over his father’s death and apparently took up residence in the Drum Tower. It’s a Threadfall day, and that means everyone in their preparations has let Wind Blossom sleep in. It’s confirmed again that HNO3 is the content of the flamethrower tanks, and, apparently, in the infirmary, there’s a betting pool about injuries for today.

“The current pool is guessing that there’ll be two severe, one minor, and three stupidities this Fall,” he [Janir] said, his eyebrows quirking with amusement. Long ago Wind Blossom had started a guessing game with the students to help prepare them for those wounded in Threadfall. Long ago it had ceased to be amusing to Wind Blossom. But it was still educational, so she pretended to enjoy it.
“Two minor, two stupidities,” Wind Blossom guessed.

Even if Wind Blossom didn’t like it any more, it probably had taken on a life of its own. But also, I don’t know why she feels the need to pretend to enjoy it, either.

Wind Blossom gives her orders, and Janir reminds her that she agreed the last time to let him run the infirmary during Threadfall. In the conference that follows, Wind Blossom expresses her worry that she’s got senile dementia. Janir tells her this is the second conversation they’ve had about this concern, and Wind Blossom is terrified at the implications that she’s losing her mind and isn’t remembering it. Not that she shows any of this, and the further conversations about finding a corpse to see if they can find the causes, and whether it would be more prudent to focus on infant and child mortality are also flagged up as repeats. Janir tries to reassure her that the memory loss seems limited to short-term memory, but that’s not a comfort, as Wind Blossom is trying to learn reconstructive surgery for Tieran.

Speaking of, the narrative shifts over to him as he finishes rumbling out news. We learn that he’s gotten strong in the intervening time, and also that he’s responsible for developing the drum code the Harpers will use over time. Emorra wants him to teach a class of younglings, in contrast to the older students he has had until now (and their ability to take his drumming skill and innovate new works in old musical styles (like jazz and old-Earth Celtic)). Tieran captures their attention by using the code to introduce himself and then teaches them beats until they can tap out “It’s lunchtime!” at the appropriate point.

Emorra catches up to him as he’s ordering lunch for the Drum Tower (as he promised when he headed down to teach), is amused at the barter for labor and meringues that happens as the cost of lunch, and then accompanies him back to the tower, where there’s some talk about why certain species were selected for use on Pern and not others. Terran plants, like sage, were apparently not well-suited to Pern (boron uptake is what’s mentioned, which I suspect means “too much boron in the soil”) or were discarded by mutual consent (okra, which makes me wonder if there were any black folk at all on the colony ship). They also lament that neither Terra nor Pern has a complete inventory of the ecosystem.

Tieran and Emorra then take a shift in the tower, after they make sure that Emorra knows enough drum code to be in the tower.

“Sure,” Tieran said. “They’re a fairly basic set of sequences, many of them modeled on genetic sequences.”
“Genetic sequences?” Jendel repeated. “You never told me that.”

Well, that completely screws the understanding I’ve had of drum code up to this point. Assuming that we’re talking about human genetics (which we may not be), that gives us four basic bits to work out that can be combined, each of which has to be audibly distinct so that it can be heard and repeated, even if transmitted at high speed, which week remain distinct regardless of the size or tone of the drum transmitting it, and also can eventually be translated by Fandarel’s distance-writer into distinct patterns of their own. Morse code, at two bits, could use “hit” and “roll” to distinguish between “dit” (.) and “dah” (–) be go at relatively good speeds, so long as an echo didn’t muddy the spaces between them. Four distinctive percussive actions? That’s not impossible, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to teach or learn, especially with the likelihood of echo distorting the message. Maybe someone with better percussive knowledge than I can tell me, because while The Other Wiki tells me there are four basic drum strokes, there’s no way those would be distinct enough to be understood, and as of right now, 40 rudiments seems to be a standard measure of the basics of technique for snare drums. I’m annoyed at this back in time idea causing more complications than simplifying them.

Later on, Tieran will think about a drummer who has “problems with some of the more complex rolls,” which makes me wonder what those building blocks are even more, and also despair about how any messages at all manage to get across, because I can’t imagine complex drum rolls having enough fidelity when transmitted over long distance to be able to tell the difference between the various rudiments. It also makes me wonder about grammar and vocabulary for all of those things, rather than being able to settle in comfortably with an alphabetic representation and the drummers spelling out the messages. This becomes even more egregious when Tieran and companion talk about the impracticality of laying telegraph lines. So they know about Morse code, but I’m supposed to believe this drum code is better than that for audible communication?

In any case, Emorra and Tieran chat about how much of a survey actually got done (where Emorra realizes Wind Blossom not actually telling her was yet another ploy, this time to get Emorra to find the information herself), and that bacteria and fire lizards got a good genome map before Thread interfered, and a significant amount of the equipment that could help with genome work was lost from Wind Blossom’s care in the crossing.

Both Tieran and Emorra console each other about not being able to stay under Wind Blossom, though Tieran stuck it out two more years than Emorra did.

“I quit cause I wasn’t good enough, Tieran. I knew that I couldn’t be the sort of person my mother expected me to be, the sort of person my family traditions demanded I be.”

Which has a different light in the view that Wind Blossom has been deliberately trying to drive everyone away from her and her studies. It’s still terrible and scarring and Wind Blossom is still well on my shit list for doing it, her regrets about it be fragged, but you want to tell Emorra and Tieran that they would never be able to succeed, by design.

The two also talk about what the survival plan for Pern is: repopulate everywhere after Thread finishes, figure out what’s toxic and what isn’t and what can be used to help with illnesses, and if the worst happens, hope that somewhere is so isolated they survive an apocalypse and then try to repopulate the whole planet themselves. It’s not a great plan, but it’s definitely the one that humans have been running on since the beginning.

Kassa, who is slated to be the next Dean of the College, appears walking toward the tower, and Emorra suggests that Tieran might have a shot with her. She’s seeing someone, Tieran reports, and points out that he’s not going to get anybody with “the scar from the top of his right forehead to his left cheek.”

Kassa relieves Emorra, and then talks to Tieran about wanting to get married and have her kids before she becomes a spinster. Tieran tries to get away from that subject, but Kassa is of a singular mind, and insists that everyone, even Emorra, will need to find their someone and have at least four kids or the next plague will wipe them all out.

Then Kassa tap-dances on one of Tieran’s triggers.

“Really, Tieran, you need to get out of this tower more,” she said. “However are you going to find a mate if you don’t keep up with current affairs?”
His anger inflamed him to respond, “No one,” he said, pointing to his face, “is going to want me with this.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kassa replied soothingly. “I’ll bet there are plenty of girls out there who are willing to lower their sights.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Way to be an embodiment of shallow insensitivity, person who is theoretically taking over as College Dean. Because it’s not “you’ll find someone who loves you for who you are,” it’s “at some point, some lonely or desperate unattached woman will let you impregnate her because she can’t get with the person she actually wants to be with.” As if Kassa is envisioning some sort of future where women are kept to be breeders for whatever man can capture them and hold on to them long enough to sire offspring. Or, that she believes women will sign up to be impregnated in a world where medical technology is rapidly backsliding to the point where maternal and infant mortality will be even worse than it already is.

I hasten to remind everyone that religion supposedly did not follow to Pern, and yet here we have someone who is going to reinvent something like Quiverfull on the premise that it’s every woman’s duty to birth at least four children of their own to repopulate.

Tieran rightly nopes out of the conversation as soon as he’s insulted and neither of them talks at each other until a big distraction comes in. M’hall swoops in, carrying a body and Wind Blossom, who directs the corpse be taken to the cold room. And then M’hall arrives, without any passengers, and his future self tries to get him not to do the course of action he has just embarked upon, even at the risk of creating a paradox, but younger M’hall won’t have any of it. Future M’hall disappears into hyperspace after delivering the warning and a scold for his younger self for not heeding him. Younger M’hall asks Tieran to send for Wind Blossom, helps her up on his dragon when she arrives, and then also disappears, enjoining Tieran not to speak of what he just witnessed until he returns. And that ends chapter 6.

Chapter 7 stays in the past, so we’re going to resolve this instance of two M’hall talking to each other first. At least we know that proximity isn’t that much of a worry for causing paradox or the collapse of two into one.

I’m still just as confused about why Wind Blossom is parenting the way she is, and I’ve just gotten confused all over again about drum code. Maybe, just maybe, things will clear up some in the next chapter?

Deconstruction Roundup for June 21st, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has successfully run the gauntlet of telling small children about where to go after the school year ends to get books and prizes.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist


Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are getting to the point where you like the new color of your bathroom after having repainted it last week. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: The A-Plus Parenting of Wind Blossom

[Mari Ness jumps ahead to The White Dragon to talk about how Jaxom is a privileged little shit and the narrative manages to work around him all the same. Including all the awkward cameos. And, frankly, the fact that the title tells us the book is really about the dragon, not the rider.]

Last time, everyone arrived to the newly-established Half-Circle Sea Hold by ship and dragon. And then proceeded to get in a fight, get drunk, and then decide the time was right to end his life (J’trel), hatch a plot to steal and rape a woman he did not particularly find attractive (Baror), and otherwise get pulled along by the narrative (Lorana).

Dragonsblood, Chapter 4: Content Notes: Abusive Parenting

(First Pass, AL 56)

It is the duty of an Eridani Adept to preserve their assigned ‘-ome’

-Excerpt from the Eridani Edicts

I could just say that Chapter Four is “Wind Blossom continues to sabotage her familial relations for reasons that are not yet adequately explained,” and that would do, but there are also other bits in here that likely need more explaining, lest they bite me in the ass later when I have to understand something else.

First, Tieran, Purman’s son. Tieran is physically disfigured, most strongly around the nose, and no cosmetic surgery has been applied to this state because Wind Blossom is waiting for his face to fully grow before she will consider doing the surgery, and will only do it then if she feels there’s still sufficient technology left to successfully perform the surgery. Wind Blossom is well aware that Tieran has had to endure taunts and pity from everyone around because of this, but she isn’t going to do the surgery or teach anyone else how.

Tieran is currently destroying her lab glassware in a fit of rage because nobody will let him hop a dragon with antibiotics and go back in time to save his father from dying in a rock slide.

“One cannot break time, Tieran,” Wind Blossom said softly. “Not even for your father. There is no way.”
Wind Blossom had taught Tieran that dragons could not only go instantaneously between places but between times. The paradoxes and rules of time travel applied to the dragons as much as to anything else that existed in the space-time continuum. It was impossible to go back in time in a manner that could alter events that had already occurred.
“You can’t alter the past,” Wind Blossom said.

Why? It’s always taken as incontrovertible fact that you can’t change the past any more than you already have, but nobody seems to have a handy example of why not, or who was foolhardy enough to try it, or any reason other than “the paradoxes and the rules!” without ever explaining what they are, even in hints or fragments. (And they still haven’t found a way around the Bootstrap Paradox, either.) It’s a giant missed opportunity for worldbuilding.

Tieran continues to berate Wind Blossom for having him learn about genetics, even though the technology for it is failing.

Brutally he pushed away from her and stormed off down the corridor. Over his shoulder, from his left side, he called back, “You can get Emorra to clean that up. After all, you treat her like your slave.”
Wind Blossom straightened up slowly. With an eye to the glass on the floor she walked over to the cot and sat upon it. With eyes that would admit no tears, she muttered bitterly, “Such a way you have with children, Wind Blossom.”

The scene changes to Emorra seeing Wind Blossom clean up the broken glass.

“What happened? Where’s Tieran?” Emorra asked.
“Tieran happened, and I do not know,” Wind Blossom answered. She looked up at her tall daughter, careful not to let any pride show in her expression. “His father was dead before he arrived.
[…a significant amount of Wind Blossom antagonizing her daughter about temporal paradoxes and losing the art of bookbinding, leading to this after she tells Emorra to get her another recycling bin…]
Emorra frowned and leaned down to pick up the bucket. After she left, Wind Blossom pursed her lips tightly and held back a heartfelt sigh. Pain, she thought to herself, pain is how we grow. Is this how it was for you, Mother?

That does not seem to be a solid parenting strategy. Or at least one that would result in anything other than all of your children hating you. Because Wind Blossom feels like she can’t show pride in her child (or grandchild, possibly). That’s not a style of parenting I’m familiar with, so maybe I lack the cultural context to understand what’s going on here.

After she’s done sending Emorra off, Wind Blossom puts on her yellow tunic and lights some incense to the memory of Purman, musing that “the way of breeding, will work on Pern for now” because the Eridani Way doesn’t think about war or technological collapse.

It will be thousands of years before our descendants will once more be able to bend genes to their will, she mused. It would be a mistake to force our children to cling to our ways. They need to move on, to learn their own ways.

And apparently, the way of going about this is alienating your children so the knowledge gets good and lost.

It had been difficult to turn Emorra against her. So difficult that she had only half-succeeded: Her daughter had remained at the College and even become its dean. It had taken less effort to drive Tieran away from her, to quench his inbred curiosity about genetics.
In both situations, she had felt all the pain of a mother turning away her child. But Wind Blossom knew that if she taught them the joy she found in genetics, they would be enraptured–and stuck with knowledge they couldn’t use. Committed, as the Eridani had always intended, to the Eridani Way, the way of countless generations husbanding species and planets, they would become incapable of developing solutions on their own.

Despite advanced genetics knowledge being something extremely useful to breeders, so they can figure out the traits they want and how to get them to express. Direct manipulation of genes and splicing may be getting beyond them, but the principles themselves are still sound and important to have.

And there needs to be a lot more explanation of why this Eridani Way would suck out the ability of humans to problem solve. Humans are remarkably inventive at solutions as a whole, even if each individual human might not have the whole solution in their head at any time. There’s a lot of needless suffering going on without any real explanation for this. Instead, we get

Wind Blossom wondered again if Ted Tubberman had thought the same thing, and if he had turned his son against him just as Kitti Ping had turned her daughter against her–and as Wind Blossom herself had tried to alienate Emorra.

So now it’s a generations-long effort to get Pern to hate genetics so much they never want to use it again? Through terrible parenting technique meant to cause harm and hate?

I really don’t understand any of this. Especially since they’re still going to be engaged in cultivation and husbandry! I can hope that maybe some other flashback segment will actually give us a reason that doesn’t fall apart at a stern glance, but I’m not giving that hope a whole lot of anything.

The rest of the chapter is Tieran overhearing a conversation between Emorra and Sandell, a musician and likely Emorra’s lover, and the drum report of his father’s death. On we go.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 14th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who hopes you are doing better than their staff meeting right now.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are going to repaint your bathroom entirely because you had an overreaction to someone making a gentle suggestion. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: Another Always Chaotic Evil Villain?

Last time, we spent a chapter proving that the watch-whers are not, in fact, a useless failure of an experiment, but a vital part of the Thread-fighting apparatus, specifically bred to eat Thread at night when the flashy dragons aren’t able to see.

We also learned that Kitti Ping, at least to Wind Blossom’s perspective, was an abusive mother, and that Wild Blossom is passing this problem on to her own daughter.

Also, it was very strongly hinted that the dragons of the current Pass are about to fall victim to something that has evolved to attack dragons and make them sick.

Dragonsblood, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Plotting Rape, Suicide

(AL 507, Half-Circle Sea Hold)

Wide ship, tall ship,
Tossed on a raging sea.
Fair ship, brave ship,
Bring my love back to me.

This feels like a song, for once! Not as sophisticated as some sea shanties I’ve heard, but something I can imagine actually being sung outside of the Harper Hall, by someone other than a child.

The chapter begins with Lorana scrambling up the mast and sketching the sunrise. When someone calls up to ask about the weather, she calls it back and everyone groans. Lorana doesn’t understand, so we get a charming piece of old Terran lore that has somehow survived all these generations.

Baror shook his head. “The old saying goes ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ There’ll be a blow for sure, but I already knew that.”
Lorana had heard from others day Baror had broken his arm years back and was convinced he could tell when the weather was going to change by the way it ached.

And also, a sailor with a weather arm, in case you needed more stereotype in your diet.

I talked about the improbability of “women are bad luck for a ship” last time, but I realize that we’ve never really gotten a good look at just how “Parallel Earth” the planet is supposed to be. The assumption we’re supposed to make is essentially “Like Earth, Except Where Noted.” There’s a different calendar system, though, which would suggest the Gregorian calendar and divisions of time didn’t translate exactly. So there’s a different revolution period. Pern has two natural satellites, instead of one, so that would mean tidal forces and the rotation period are likely different. And while Rukbat is described as a G-type star, The Other Wiki tells us “G-type star” is an imprecise categorization that contains anything from red-hot to white-hot stars and our conception of Sol’s color is strongly influenced by the way Terra’s atmosphere scatters light depending on the relative position of Sol in the sky.

And there’s Thread, which has to have an influence on the weather patterns, and life forms that have adapted to the regular intrusion of Thread, which might do the same. And also, there are humans (and possibly humaniform ETs?) and their climate-influencing technologies like coal forges and furnaces, cows, horses, mines, and the like, that have been going for at least 500 rotation cycles at this point in the narrative.

Which is to say, Pern is nothing like Terra at all, and we don’t my have a reason to believe that stereotypes like a weather arm or advice like “Red sky at morning” are actually useful on Pern without the narrative providing justification. I would think the Pernese would be more frightened of any red sky situation, given that the presence of the Red Star in the sky means Threadfall is on the way.

Which is, admittedly, me being grumbly about a lack of thought with regard to the world that’s been constructed. The MST3K Mantra or Bellisario’s Maxim could certainly be applied here, but it would be nice to know how all this ancient wisdom supposedly survived in a world that hasn’t been described as close enough. And it’s always Terran wisdom, not Cetian or Eridani.

Anyway, the narrative continues with Colfet breaking his arm and Lorana helping to get him below to set it. Well, Lorana helps, but it’s because Colfet refuses the sensible assistance the captain is ready to give Lorana.

Tanner looked alarmed. Catching sight of a seaman coming up on deck, he called, “Gesten, Colfert’s broken his arm. Help him down below so that Lorana can go ahead and get set up.”
“No, it’s all right!” Colfet called back, putting his weight on Lorana, who nearly buckled in surprise. “Lorana’s a stout lass, we’ll manage. Besides, the weather’s picking up–you’ll be needing all hands to trim sail.”
Getting the large seaman down below to get cabin was much harder than she’d figured, but Lorana felt that she’d proved herself “one of the boys” by doing so.

A couple paragraphs later, Lorana blushes under the intensity of Colfet’s gaze, and the whole sequence, bar the first time Lorana tries to set the bone and misses the mark, Colfet seems to be trying to flirt by looking at her drawings (which are in high demand, and also, Lorana finds Captain Tanner nice to look at). After blithely assuming she could support his weight so he could have alone time with her. And her going along with it because she thinks it will help her standing with the boys. (Which is to say, Colfet has really tanked his possibilities, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count.) It’s a nice example of workplace sexism and how sometimes women can’t say no to the situation they’ve been maneuvered into.

Thankfully, there’s no sexual assault, and Colfet is genuinely glad to have his broken bone set and bound properly. He also has some advice for Lorana: hop off after this stop, because Baror hates women and dragonriders in equal measure, so Lorana will be persona non grata.

“Baror doesn’t like women,” Colfet interrupted. “You know that.” He paused and leaned in closer to her. “He doesn’t like dragonmen much, either. And for the same reason.”
Lorana looked intrigued.
“His first wife ran off with a dragonman,” Colfet told her. “I can’t say as I’d blame her–he was never much to look at, and his idea of romance would bore a fish.”
Lorana made to comment, but Colfet held up his good hand to forestall her.
“I suppose he might have changed his mind,” Colfet went on, “if only his second wife hadn’t died in the Plague. He blamed the dragonriders for not helping soon enough.”
“Oh!”
Colfet nodded. “He found a third wife, but she hounds him unmercifully. I think that’s why he was so happy to go on this voyage. Still, he’s no reason to think kindly of women or dragonmen.”

I can’t tell of this is being played for empathy or comedy or just as a straight justification for misogyny. It could be any of them, and the context around isn’t helping any. If this is supposed to be “poor Baror, look at the suffering he’s gone through. The women in his life were unfaithful, dead, and a harridan, respectively” then the crack about how his idea of romance would bore a fish is out of place, because it’s a justification of why his wife would run off with the more sexually adventurous dragonrider. If it’s supposed to be “laugh at Baror, because the best he can hang on to is a shrew,” then the account of his second wife dying is out of place, because that evokes empathy.

This would read way better as “why Baror hates dragonriders and those associated with them” by keeping the first two wives and cutting off the third. That would even work for “hates women and dragonriders” with just those two, but then it’s “and now he’s married to a shrew, so he hates women because of her” and it’s out of place. At least one of these accounts is out of place for trying to find a throughline of making Baror a consistent character. He doesn’t have to be consistent, sure, but it helps.

And if he were consistent, it would be easier to find a thing to hang on to as “Pern is still a terrible place, even to men.” Because there’s a lot bad stereotype at work in Baror’s character and justifications. He’s ugly and unimaginative, so his wife ran off! He hates being cuckolded by dragonriders! And I want to know whether there were sex rays involved, and whether she had a choice to say no to the dragonrider that propositions her, assuming he did. And if she did, I want to know why she married him and whether being a lover of a dragonrider is a better station than a fishwife, so it was a mercenary decision as much of anything…yeah.

Wife number two dying and the dragonriders taking the blame makes sense, so there’s two reasons to hate dragonriders — Baror had his pedestal shattered again. Presumably, he loved her.

And what happened with wife number three? Like, there’s the very real possibility that he’s been taken advantage and is being abused, even if not physically, and he’s decided that it’s fine because he doesn’t deserve anything better, since better keeps getting stolen from him. And he’s stuck in a toxically masculine society that thinks it weak that he’s not the one doing the abusing and controlling, or thinks the solution is simply breaking the relationship and turning her out on her ear. (It’s hard if you love them, because love always believes you can work it out. And abusers are very good at making it seem like you even thinking about breaking it off is a terrible offense that means you don’t love them any more and you’re going to make them suffer because you’re a cruel and heartless person.)

It’s a complex character if you spend as much time thinking about things as I did. If not, it’s another woman-hating grunt with stereotypical reasons to do so. I suspect the latter was meant more than the former.

The ship docks at Half-Circle after several ships try to chase and overtake them for fun and fail. They pay mooring and watching fees (which seem to be highway robbery, based on Colfet’s reaction, but Tanner pays) and Lorana takes Colfet to the Hold Healer. The Healer looks over her work and says he’ll recommend Lorana to the Healer Hall if she wants to go, doubly so when Colfet talks up her drawing skills. The sailors and Lorana get food.

The perspective shifts to J’trel arriving at Half-Circle and having questions about the design of the place and whether that might make it vulnerable to Thread. He nearly gets run over at the Hold entrance by people hauling stones, insulted for being old, then blamed for the insulter, Genin, tipping their wheelbarrow when Talith gives the entire group an angry bugle for the slight.

Everyone around Genin tells him that it’s a terrible idea to provoke a dragonrider, but Genin is too provoked to stand down, and J’trel is determined to teach Genin a lesson.

It is a question of honor, J’trel said. Thread comes soon. Holders must respect dragonriders. Talith accepted the answer reluctantly, taking station and circling watchfully high above the crowd.

The fight itself is short and brutal. Since Genin knows he’s Shunned, no matter what the outcome is, he tries to grab J’trel to break his spine. J’trel gouges his eyes, kicks him in the groin, then in the chest, and that’s it. J’trel finds out where Lorana is while he’s still in a snit (and still very hurt from the fight) and goes over to say hello.

We do a quick shift to Baror, still grumbling about how it’s “not right” for a woman to be aboard a ship, which becomes a plot to…

“She’s a bit plain for my tastes,” Baror grumbled.
“She’d keep you warm at night,” Minet said suggestively. “Especially if you were the captain. She’d have no choice then.”
“My missus would skin me,” Baror grumbled. Minet knew that all too well. He was convinced that getting away from his wife was half the reason that Baror had agreed to this voyage.
“Your missus would skin you only if she found out,” Minet said, his eyes glinting. “As you said, it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. And accidents can happen.”

…rape Lorana while she’s out to sea with them by taking the captaincy from Tannner, and then also deal with J’trel, by causing “accidents” to anyone who would get in the way, then forcing Lorana with the captain’s authority.

Because we can’t let characters stew in complexity, or be ambiguous, or get hurt by their society and want to hurt others, or anything like that.

I do like the “petty” stakes for this, in the sense of “not trying to overthrow the social order,” not in the sense of “the rape of a woman is not important”. And yet, Baror could just be a greedy cuss, rather than having this plan spark off because dudes want to revenge-rape a woman. Not everything has to revolve around sexual assault.

J’trel sees Lorana, delivers some beaded harness gifts that proclaim Lorana to be an Animal Healer-in-training, to her “bzuh?” She learns from Grenn that J’trel was in a fight, and also that J’trel may have killed the man he fought. Before we can explore whether this is actually the case, Baror appears and plies J’trel with wine loud praise about his fighting ability, and quiet “commisseration” about Genin’s death until J’trel is too drunk to do much as Baror convinces Lorana to come with him because the ship is about to sail. Before she heads out, Lorana hears Talith cough and tells J’trel that it sounds worse than before. Baror leads Lorana so that she doesn’t see the crowd gathering around Tanner, who has been knocked at least unconscious by Baror.

Baror wondered if he had killed Tanner with the blow, but he didn’t really care.

Really? Baror has gone from husband at least nominally worried about consequences from his missus to a killer that doesn’t give a damn? That easily?

I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.

The end of the chapter is J’trel waking up from passing out from the drink, Talith’s breathing sounding strained, and both rider and dragon apparently agreeing that they are old, tired, and done with life, having discharged their duties to notify next of kin. J’trel tells Talith to give Lorana his love, assuming she will be able to carry on without them, and then the two take a one way trip to hyperspace together as the last action of the chapter.

I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?” because part of the reason for dragons and their riders bonding so tightly, as I understand it, is so that neither of them will ever have thoughts of disappearing like that while they’re bonded to each other. Even if we had a bit more about how Talith and J’trel have been thinking about what they’re going to do after they get done, and coming up blank, and maybe having had a discussion between themselves about whether the time was right, that would help this decision feel less like an author needed to get rid of a character and couldn’t figure out a good way of doing so.

And now, I sort of want to see how a rider-dragon partnership happens when the bond of the dragon isn’t enough to overcome depression or suicidal thoughts from happening, but it is enough to make those things less intense or less likely to be acted on, or otherwise sort of like being on meds that work for you.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 7th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, whose school visits continue tomorrow.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are entirely aggravated at still being sick, despite having had enough time to get well before having to talk to all the children. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: Making Things Worse

[Mari Ness’s post is about the differences between slow-acting, widespread, small, and sometimes invisible changes that might end up having great environmental impacts versus big flashy loud things that are visible but may not be the most effective at what they’re supposed to do. Which is at least tangentially related to what we are encountering now, where there are characters making decisions about which path to take to provide the most assistance to their descendants.]

Last time…well, we met our main characters last time, found out one of them has the special “talks to all dragons” ability and is a fair hand at both mending bones and drawing whatever she sees, and that the new author was conceiving of the idea that blue and green riders didn’t have to be exclusively gay any more before it showed up in the later works of the series we just finished.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 2: Content Notes: Abusive Parents

(Fort Hold, First Pass, year 42, AL 50)

Which establishes (and retcons the original timeline established in the First Fall-era books, if I remember correctly) that the colonists spent eight years on planet Pern before Threadfall made itself known and forced the abandonment of the Southern Continent. This is a good change, in that it gives the colonists time to deploy and get set up and get used to their way of life before having to make the drastic changes necessary to survive Thread.

Rather than a poem or song fragment, we get prose to start this First Pass chapter.

-ome (suffix): (i) the biological portion of an ecosystem. (ii) the material and genetic information required to re-create the biological portion of an ecosystem. Examples: the “terrome” refers to the biological portion of the Terran ecosystem; the “cetome” refers to the biological portion of the Cetus III ecosystem; the “eridanome” refers to the biological portion of the Eridani ecosystem.

–Glossary of terms, Ecosystems: From -ome to Planet, 24th edition

One of the nice things about science fiction writing is that you get to make shit up, and so long as it sounds vaguely science-y, not that many readers are going to give you grief about it.

Which is to say that I can’t imagine linguistics going in this direction, even in the far future, because Terrans are much better at portmanteau than this, and I can’t see a phrasing derived from, say “biome” to suddenly take on a meaning that is only a small part of what the original was.

The chapter opens with Wind Blossom (daughter of Kitti Ping, fabled Eridani-trained dragon geneticist) being ejected from a dream, but with the important part still intact.

Even with the dream interrupted, as if against her will, Wind Blossom remembered her mother’s last words: “Always a disappointment you were to me. Now you hold the family honor. Fail not, Wind Blossom.”
Wind Blossom had had the same dreams for the last forty years.

Cocowhat by depizan

Do I even want to dive into figuring out which terribly executed, potentially racist stereotypes are at work here?

Actually, stick a pin in that, there’s more. First, the descriptions of the two of them, in comparison, which is essentially Kitti Ping saved everyone by creating dragons, Wind Blossom is “credited with–blamed for–the creation, through similar genetic manipulation, of the photophobic watch-whers.”

“Always a disappointment you were to me,” her mother’s calm, controlled voice came to Wind Blossom’s mind–a memory over forty years old.

And yet more hagiography of the early settlers and how Kitti Ping saved them all.

Wind Blossom stares herself in the mirror as she starts her morning routine.

Her hair was still dark–it would always be dark–as were her eyes. They stared impressively back at her as she examined her face. Her skin had the same yellowish tinge of her Asian ancestors; her eyes had the Asian almond shape.
Wind Blossom completed her inspection, noting once again that the muscles around her face, which had slackened thirty years before, pulled the corners of her lips downward.
Opening her dresser, she saw the yellow tunic at the bottom of her drawer and sighed imperceptibly as she had at the sight of it every day for the last twenty years. Once, an accident at the laundry had left one of her white tunics with a distinctly yellowish tinge. No one had remarked on it. When the day was over, Wind Blossom had carefully put the tunic away in her drawers. She had worn it again, years later–and no one had noticed. Now, as always, she carefully pulled out one of her scrupulously white tunics. From the lower drawer she pulled out a fresh pair of black pants.

Okay, I think that’s enough potentially-racist material for now. Let’s start again at the top, with what were apparently the last words of Kitti Ping to her daughter. Her sentence construction is more Yoda than anything, which is often deployed in a “the funny foreigner doesn’t have a solid grasp on English language and structure” kind of way. But also, there’s apparently no warmth or love between mother and daughter, for Kitti to have said all of this so dispassionately. That sounds suspiciously stereotypical for Asian parents on Terra. Then Wind Blossom describes herself as having a yellowish tinge to her skin, which is a sign of jaundice rather than ethnicity. Yellow skin was a racist caricature of Asians on Terra, and I doubt somehow that Wind Blossom would describe herself in such a way. The almond eyes also lean into stereotype, but those I might believe are descriptors.

And I really don’t know what to make of this yellow tunic story. Did nobody notice or care because she was the failure daughter of Kitti Ping? Because they thought an off-color mistake was perfect for the geneticist who created the mistakes called watch-whers? Because they thought that yellow suited her well, for fashionable reasons? For racist ones? And when she wore it again, nobody noticed the color change then, either, apparently. Same reasons? I don’t know what this is doing here in the story, because there aren’t any signs to point at or reasons why she held onto an “accident at the laundry” for twenty years so she could sigh at it every morning.

What I can see is that Kitti Ping gave her daughter severe mental trauma as she died, trauma that she is dealing with by herself (because again, there are no therapists on Pern and nobody ever comes up with the bright idea to reinvent them, despite the clear need for them every time we check in on Pern), and that, as we find out, she is passing on to her own daughter.

Wind Blossom spared one more moment to glare at her daughter. “Always a disappointment you were to me,” she muttered before she bent over the boy.

Because a terrible thing about abuse is that it tends to cycle and perpetuate itself on the next generation as well. (And also, if I recall correctly, Kitti Ping died slumped over at her workbench, having just created the dragon program, so if those were the last words between mother and daughter, they happened before Kitti died.)

The plot, such that it is, has someone calling Wind Blossom to come out because a child has been mauled by a watch-wher and needs stitches. Wind Blossom is first amused, then acidly annoyed, by the apparently new conception of calling her “my lady”, and then starts barking orders at the interns on what will need to happen, while she mentally complains that there isn’t any such thing as a true, sterile operating theater to work in, even though there are apparently still sterilized gowns for surgery, and that there isn’t any more supply of suture material, so surgery as medical practice is about to go out the window because technology is fading out without being replaced. Wind Blossom will say as much that learning about sutures is pointless because the technology to support that knowledge is fading, and I am wondering why, despite knowing that they wanted to degrade gracefully, the colonists seem to have not packed the necessary things to be able to create such things as sterile environments, sutures, and the like in their target technology level? Or had the knowledge of it spread widely through the populations?

The boy turns out to be a Tubberman (although his father disavows the name that caused so much trouble on Pern), and because of bloodline records, his father can tell Wind Blossom that the child is O positive. So Wind Blossom, after ordering the preparation of the room, and telling M’hall, Benden’s Weyrleader, that this is the last of the suture material, also orders blood transfusions to the boy before/while/after the surgery is going on, from the three people that can give – his father, Wind Blossom, and her daughter, Emorra. The interns are advising against a woman of Wind Blossom’s age giving a unit of blood, but she thinks it would be poetic if she died giving her blood to atone for her “mistake”, in the same way that she thought it poetic earlier for descendants of Kitti Ping to be helping the descendants of Ted Tubberman.

Wind Blossom passes out from giving the unit of blood, and we get another dream of hers where Kitti Ping is insistent that her designed creature, the one she received accolades for because it appeared to save Cetus III from radiation poisoning, was a visible symbiote and the unnoticed, unsung leechworms were really responsible for the salvation of Cetus III, because they ate (and therefore concentrated) things that had been irradiated by the Nathi in their attempt to wipe out all the humans on the planet. The designed creatures ate the leechworms, and were able to process the radiation. But we don’t get very far in the dream before Wind Blossom wakes up. (And is informed she was out for two days from the blood donation.) Purman (the Tubberman who denies his name) and Wind Blossom then have a conversation that M’Hall will eventually join in on, but we have a few things to note before we get there. First, Purman thinks Wind Blossom is being harsh with her daughter.

“Emorra did not leave your side until she collapsed into sleep herself. I had Carelly take her to her rooms.” His expression changed. “I think you treated her harshly. Was Kitti Ping like that?”
Wind Blossom examined his face before slowly nodding. “It is a great honor the Eridani bestowed on us.”

Wind Blossom, for her part, doesn’t try to deny it and acknowledges that her own mother was the same way, and we can see very clearly here a cycle that is being perpetuated on the next generation and yet nobody, save Purman here and now, seems interested in possibly trying to break that cycle. Purman doesn’t persist in his objections, even when Wind Blossom changes the subject by asking what happened to Purman’s son.

After Purman tells Wind Blossom how his son got mauled, M’hall and Emorra arrive. Wind Blossom tells them both to kill the watch-wher, because she thinks it still has an instinctive reaction that she tried to breed out of it. M’hall shrugs and says the watch-wher’s (Bendensk, which means that whers bonded to places apparently take the name of the place, instead of the name of their primary handler) already killed herself from lack of partner. Because her previous handler got Impressed to a dragon, and her attempt to bond with the young child meant he got mauled. Wind Blossom, upon hearing that the son will need to wake soon and not move his mouth, assigns Emorra to handle that issue.

“My lady!” M’hall protested, “Emorra is the administrator here. She should not be ordered about–”
“She is my daughter,” Wind Blossom replied, as if that were enough. Emorra bit off a bitter response, nodded curtly to her mother, and left.
“Mother or not–” M’hall’s indignation suffused his face

I think by now we can safely say that Wind Blossom lost whatever empathy points she may have picked up by having this version of Kitti Ping as her mother, because she’s doing it just as much to her daughter. Like, we can see it as the tragic continuation of a cycle of abuse all we like, but that doesn’t mean we have to like or excuse anything that Wind Blossom is doing with Emorra. And having that same nightmare every damn night seems like it might induce Wind Blossom to make some changes in her life so that she doesn’t turn out exactly like her mother to her own daughter, but that kind of self-awareness has apparently eluded her. (Which is all too realistic.)

Plot-wise, Wind Blossom sent Emorra out so she and M’hall could talk at Purman about the actual function of watch-whers, dragons, and grubs. At least at this point in time, the function of the grubs has not been lost to time, and it turns out that Purman bred a variation that works more closely with the wine vines at Benden so that they aren’t harmed by Threadfall. Which will become important when he actually says it, but for now, it’s a lecture about genetics and why you want to have multiple reasons for introducing a new species into an ecosystem. Watch-whers apparently are meant to fulfill several roles.

“In fact, the watch-whers were created to solve several problems,” she continued. “Dragons, by their nature, would associate with a select few people. But they must become part of the human ecology, if you will. They must not be feared.”
“So you bred the watch-whers as something that most people could see?” Purman sounded skeptical.
“And they’re uglier than dragons, too,” M’hall added. “If you were to try to tell someone who’d never seen a dragon what they were like, you’d say like a watch-wher but bigger and prettier.”
“So their first purpose is psychological?”
“It is not their first purpose,” Wind Blossom replied rather tartly.

The hell is this? There really isn’t any reason at all for the dragons not to be feared – they’re the protectors of the planet and keepers of the way of life. Sean and Sorka seemed to think a healthy fear of dragons and their riders would make things easier for everyone, especially in not having the dragons do mundane things and in making sure their tribute trains stayed uninterrupted. And if Wind Blossom wanted to make people more comfortable with dragons in their midst, she would have done better working with others to try and breed a domesticated fire-lizard. Humans, at least, like small and cute things that are useful to them. Watch-whers fit neither of these purposes, so it seems like, at least for this part, Wind Blossom is talking out her ass.

What follows, however, is something far better, and also makes me wonder if this were something that was strongly fought over or was supposed to be the plan all along, and the first author just never got around to saying so.

“I designed their eyes to be excellent in low-light situations,” Wind Blossom said, choosing her words carefully, “and particularly tuned to infrared wavelengths.”
[…and also that they’re empathic more than telepathic, and that she tried to make them harder-armored, but that didn’t take…]
“Why not incorporate these changes directly into the dragons?” [Purman asks.]
“Two different species are safer,” Wind Blossom said. “Greater diversity yields redundancy.”
Purman nodded but held up a hand as he grappled with his thoughts. Finally he looked up at the two of them. “The watch-whers fight Thread at night?”
“By themselves,” M’hall agreed, eyes gleaming in memory. “I’ve seen them once–they were magnificent. I learned a lot about fighting Thread that night.”
“They breathe fire?”
“No,” M’hall said. “They eat Thread, like the fire-lizards. They don’t need riders, either–the queens organize them all.”
[…The plot gos on to discuss things like “how do they fly?” (The same way dragons do, just with smaller wings to avoid getting Threadscored.) and “why don’t we see them more often?” (it’s usually too cold for Thread to survive when the watch-whers are active.)…]
A look of wonder crossed his face as he recalled the experience. “They swarmed in from everywhere, arranged themselves by their queens, and flew up to the Thread. I was above them at first, and they came up at me like stars coming out at night. And then they were above, swooping and diving for the still-viable clumps of Thread.”
“They see more in the infrared range,” Wind Blossom said. “They can differentiate between the live Thread and the Thread that has been frozen by the night atmosphere.”

Cocowhat by depizan

And yes, that’s why their eyes are terrible, and also, did you know that Wind Blossom thinks of the watch-whers as the second string in case the dragons and their riders die, too?

But we’ve finally established a purpose for the watch-whers other than “Wind Blossom’s failed attempts to recreate the dragons, which she was doomed to fail repeatedly because she was a perpetual and continual disappointment to her mother.”

I’m with Purman, who says in the middle of this new understanding, “Why keep this a secret?” Why, indeed? Wind Blossom’s response is “So that people can sleep at night without the fear of Threadfall while they sleep.” Which doesn’t make sense. I think more people would sleep better knowing that watch-whers were the night patrol during night Threadfalls. And also, not knowing this has basically permitted the wholesale persecution of watch-whers on the planet, instead of understanding their vital role of keeping the planet safe in conditions where dragons and their riders aren’t as effective. I realize that all of the Threadfall mentioned in the books up to this point happens in the daytime, but if it follows a regular pattern, at some point a Hold has to be sieged by Thread during the night. Which would be a problem for the dragons and the riders, but nobody wakes up to find their fields devastated. Now we know why — the watch-whers have presumably been protecting them during the night. But if Aleesa is right and watch-whers have been either turned away or hunted just about everywhere that doesn’t have another use for them, there aren’t enough watch-whers on the planet to eat a full Threadfall. (Unless they breed wild in several parts of the planet and the humans haven’t discovered this.)

Which is to say, all in all, this doesn’t make any sense at all. The night patrol purpose of the watch-whers should be common knowledge, and yes, while they’re ugly, they should be seen as a valuable corps of Thread-fighters. Trying to stitch this knowledge in with the books that we’ve already experienced, near and far, is an exercise in the sort of explanations that comic book continuity is famous for. Expect headaches.

Further patching things on to the world, Purman is able to infer from all of this, and his own experience in having to breed a better grub because a fungus started destroying his grape vines, that Wind Blossom and M’hall suspect that disease vectors that affect fire-lizards could affect watch-whers and dragons, and that since there’s been ample time for mutation, the genetic immunity given to dragons and watch-whers might not be enough against mutated strains. There’s our reason for Talith’s cough, and Wind Blossom, M’hall, and Purman’s worries close out Chapter Two.

That’s a lot of new territory for exploration opened up in a single chapter. I like the way that it redeems Wind Blossom from being unfavorably compared to her mother, because their purposes were different, but something like “watch-whers eat Thread at night” is the sort of thing that should be disseminated far and wide so that, like the grubs, people can always be on the lookout for them and to try and help establish breeding lines and spaces for them. With this new knowledge, Kindan shouldn’t have had any trouble at all finding a new watch-wher to come to the mines, instead of the convoluted plot with Aleesa, Zist, and the others. There doesn’t seem to be any real justification beyond the need to set up the current plot as to why vital information is being kept secret, and other pieces of information weren’t being translated to the desired technology level long before Thread accelerated the loss of that technology.

This is a good chapter for worldbuilding, but it really needed to be in with the previous set of books set at the colony era, and subsequent books needed to take this into account. That way we don’t have to fit it in to the pattern and stare at how poorly it grafts with everything else we’ve seen so far.

Next week, back to the “present,” where there will be more cursing.